Reviews of Homeward Bound

“3.5 out of 4 stars” - People Magazine                                                               “The brilliance of Emily Matchar’s new book is that it exhaustively describes what disillusioned workers are opting into: a slower, more sustainable, and more self-sufficient lifestyle that’s focused on the home. Matchar synthesizes dozens of trend stories … into a single, compelling narrative about the resurgence of domesticity….Refreshing.” -The New Republic                                                       "[P]rovocatively explores what the movement says about the role of women in society today.” – The New Yorker                                                                       "I unreservedly loved it…It’s empathetic and funny and thoughtful and smart, and I encourage all of you to read it."– The Hairpin                                                         “Cogently argues that choosing a more hands-on, DIY lifestyle – family farming, canning, crafting, can, without sacrificing feminism’s hard-won gains, improve on an earlier time when ‘people lived more lightly on the earth and relied less on corporations, and family and community came first.’” - ELLE                                                               “[I]ntelligent and insightful...essential reading.” - Christianity Today                                                       “A lively and perceptive reporter… a valuable and astute assessment.”—Publishers Weekly                                                         “A well-researched look at the resurgence of home life…. Offers intriguing insight into the renaissance of old-fashioned home traditions.”— Kirkus Reviews

What is New Domesticity?

This blog is a look at the social movement I call ‘New Domesticity’ – the fascination with reviving “lost” domestic arts like canning, bread-baking, knitting, chicken-raising, etc. Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off? Why has the image of the blissfully domestic supermom overtaken the Sex & the City-style single urban careerist as the media’s feminine ideal? Where does this movement come from? What does it mean for women? For families? For society?                                                                                     My book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, which explores New Domesticity in greater depth, will be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2013.

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The un-simple reality of the “simple,” “rustic,” “DIY” wedding


My cake toppers.

I got married on a goat farm. Our wedding pictures involved chickens, and a vintage school bus-turned-coop, and holding hands in a field at sunset. I wore cowboy boots underneath my dress. My husband wore a tan seersucker suit. Dinner was a NC-style pig pickin.’ Afterwards, there was pie.

Of course, there were copious amounts of DIY. We handmade the invitations, which featured hand-stamped goats and pigs and a vintage font called Rockwell (to be honest, my husband and mother made most of the invitations one night at 2am, while I lay on the couch with my laptop finishing a deadline). My husband made 100-plus bottles of his own recipe hot sauce, which we bottled and decorated with handmade labels to use in lieu of place cards. My friends and I arranged all the flowers ourselves, in Mason jars (naturally) and old-fashioned glass milk bottles. I made burlap table runners, and hand-painted tiny wooden dolls for our cake (pie) toppers. My dad and brother made banana pudding.

I loved my wedding, and wouldn’t have changed a thing (well, maybe I would have ixnayed the burlap table runners, which left my house, car and tablecloths stinking of turpentine).

But it’s very clear, looking back, that a Future Person looking at our wedding photos will be able to pinpoint our wedding date to the decade, if not the actual year. The Farm Wedding (and its close cousins, the Rustic Wedding, the Vintage Wedding and the DIY Wedding) is the dominant matrimonial aesthetic of the 21st century.

The Farm/Rustic/Vintage/DIY Wedding neatly telegraphs the values of today, values we see over and over in New Domesticity: DIY over purchased, artisan over mass-produced, rustic rather than high-tech, small and personal over large and generic. If you look at any of the popular wedding blogs, which have been multiplying like fruit flies for the past several years, you’ll be inundated with pictures of vintage A-line wedding dresses, grooms with 19th century ringmaster mustaches, antique typewriters decorating the guest book table, appetizers of home-pickled carrots and radishes, bouquets of zinnias and rosemary grown in the bride’s backyard, friends-turned-officiants conducting ceremonies while wearing bow ties and bowler hats.

Though this aesthetic claims to be all about honoring tradition and the past (hence the vintage typewriters and 1950s wedding dresses, etc. etc.), it’s actually a radical departure from tradition. In fact, the DIY-ness of these weddings is both a result and a celebration of our current culture of hyper-individualism, a culture that’s VERY 21st century.

Take the wedding cake. A big white wedding cake, a tradition (in the West, at least) since the 19th century, seems impossibly generic to many of us. So instead we choose desserts that, rather than representing tradition, represent our own values and experiences. My wedding had local NC pies – pecan, muscadine grape, etc. – from a great local bakery, plus a pick-n-mix candy bar with candies from all the countries my husband and I have visited. Dessert offerings from weddings I’ve attended in the past few years have included: plates of stroopwafel cookies and salty licorice (the groom was Dutch), a dessert truck with Baked Alaska cupcakes and moose-shaped cookies (the bride and groom met in Alaska), a groom’s cake shaped like a brain (the groom did neuroscience research).

All this individualism, I’d venture, makes wedding planning more time-consuming than in the past. I could have ordered wedding invitations and been done with it. Instead, I designed the invitations on Word (after weeks of looking at designs online), designed and ordered pig and goat stamps from a stamp-making company, spent a day of my New York vacation sourcing paper and envelopes, compared paper and envelope prices online, ordered paper and envelopes from various different companies (the returned the ones that didn’t work), bought a paper cutter to cut the paper to invitation size and spent a night cutting paper with my mother, sourced and ordered striped ribbons to fix to the envelopes, read numerous online reviews about the best adhesive to make ribbons stick to paper and finally purchased a Xylon sticker-maker, Photoshopped my Word design and my goat and pig images together, printed all my invitations, then spend another two days (well, my husband and mother did) collating the invitations, punching them with hole-punches, tying them together with raffia, sticking them in envelopes, affixing ribbon to the envelopes with the Xylon, putting the envelopes in larger envelopes, hand-addressing the larger envelopes, and stamping the envelope flaps with the pig and goat stamps I’d designed.

The whole process probably took about 80 man-hours, and – guess what! – ended up being MORE EXPENSIVE than if I’d simply ordered invitations online. In fact, the whole wedding, in all its DIY simplicity (pig roast! keg beer! self-arranged flowers!) was not exactly cheap. If I factored in my own labor hours (and those of my friends and husband), I daresay it would have cost far MORE than the average American wedding (which is something like $28,000).

This isn’t the point, not totally. I loved the DIY aspect, loved being creative and making things with my husband and friends and mother. It was great fun, and created the memories that will last forever (the slaphappiness of being awake making wedding invitations at 2am will do that). Yet I do want to point out that these Rustic/Vintage/Farm/DIY weddings are part of current culture of “simplicity” that is anything but simple, “tradition” that is anything but traditional, and “DIY” that winds up feeling more complicated than nuclear engineering.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who stayed for several nights in a row hand-stamping cocktail napkins??? Stories of your own simple/rustic/vintage/DIY weddings?

14 comments to The un-simple reality of the “simple,” “rustic,” “DIY” wedding

  • This is great to read. I got married 8 years ago and we wanted to do cool DIY stuff but didn’t have the sweat equity to invest (both working/students full time) nor the money for adorable letterpress invitations or unique desserts (our cake was a basic white wedding cake from a grocery store).

    I guess this is where the DIY/rustic stuff shows its privilege a bit?

  • Emily

    Yes, totally! In fact, to be cynical for a moment, I think one of the appeals of DIY culture is that it says “I have time and leisure to make things by hand.” In an era where free time is the biggest luxury, that really says something about your class status.

  • mary

    I could not agree more with the two first posters. This whole trend seems very competitive and forced. I was married 8 years ago and barely had enough time to do the basics. My wedding was typical of the time, and I did not make ONE thing by hand. Regret it? Are you kidding me?

    I am pretty sure none of our guests minded the absence of twee, handmade objects.

  • Yes, yes, yes. Ours was the same way. I didn’t need everything to be “perfect” but I needed every little detail to be “individual,” to the point where I nearly lost my mind with all the projects I took on. Yes it was completely lovely and special etc etc, and in our case we did save a bucketload of money (important, as we were subsisting on grad school stipends at the time) but I was so worn out from all my efforts by the end of it, that I was practically a zombie on the day of.

    I often think about how much simpler my “simple wedding” would have actually been if I had just booked a “Coralville Conference Center Wedding Package” like everyone else in Iowa City, instead of tricking out a 126 year old octagonal barn in the middle of nowhere in the name of “authenticity.”

    I mean, authentic to what? I’m from Los Angeles for chrissake.

    For shame!

    • Emily

      When I told my mom I wanted our wedding to feel “like a Southern farm fiesta,” she said “but neither of you is Mexican or a farmer or even really that Southern. I don’t get it.”

  • Katy

    Well, I think your wedding sounded lovely & fun! My partner and I are not married, but if we were the marrying kind, I would def prefer to do the handmade style wedding than traditional church or cheesy hotel. I most like weddings where the couple have really injected themselves into the day – and homemade seems to communicate this far more than just throwing money at it (but of course there are other ways as well). Obviously, it is problematised somewhat if the ‘personality’ you are injecting is not your own – but evn if you just like the tropes of the south/Mexico/star wars/whatever, it is a way to personalize your day (it’s what you like, not what you’re like..) I don’t know – people don’t ‘have’ to get married anymore, so if you’re going to why not spend the time and effort to make it something you think is lovely?

  • Before the Internet and things like wedding blogs an Pinterest, the only weddings people saw and compared theirs to we’re weddings they actually attended. Now we see every fantastic wedding in great detail, which raises people’s expectations nd desires for smething special. To make matters worse for the novice event planner/designer, creative people with design skills and creative networks make it look effortless, or “simple” or inexpensive. So we end up with young people with no experience trying to pull off a semi-pro production worthy of Internet fame and they burn out, freak out about the actual costs and get frustrated when things don’t turn out great or seem worth all the effort. DIY means you did it yourself, not simple or budget or easy. Would you build your own house or design your own car without the depth of experience that most DIY weddings rely on? no way. So in the end, we see a backlash on DIY weddings from a bunch of people who should never have attempted it in the first place, with personal criticisms attacking the “authenticity” of the bride and groom to cover up someone else’s feelings of ineptitude and shock over the realization that the greatest party you’ve ever thrown wasn’tthe easiest, most care-free and cheap thing they’ve ever done.

  • Amanda Noel

    I think all of you could have used a good dose of
    Yes. There is a BIG difference between DIY and SIMPLE, but the “traditional” wedding people are rebelling against came out of the 50s/60s times we all seem obsessed with at the moment, and aren’t actually that “traditional” at all.

    I was married about 2 months ago and while I spent a LOT of time on some of the details, it was time I wanted to invest because hell- its the only time in your life you can spend hours and hours crafting without society judging those endeavors as profitless or selfish or all the other problematic stereotype associated with “women’s work” that I happen to really enjoy.

    I completely agree that with the internet everyone is exposed to a lot more “perfect” weddings and standards, but we are also exposed to sites like offbeatbride and apracticalwedding that can balance the Wedding Industrial Complex shoved down a bride’s throat in all the magazines!

    • I thought the same, everyone has missed the “simple part”! I had what I consider to be a simple wedding, and it only cost $5K. I didn’t make invitations, I emailed a pdf. we didn’t have bridemaids/groomsmen. I bought my dress off the rack (and it wasn’t white, so it was a fraction of the cost of a wedding dress). My mother-in-law baked a lovely chocolate cake, and I cut flowers from her garden. We got married on the beach with 30 guests and had a spit-roast dinner in the local community hall. Our good friend took all the photos. There is a big difference between faux rustic and actually simplifying the day. There is also a point where you can DYI yourself to death making things that aren’t really needed, and just waste time and money. The most enjoyable part of the day for me was setting up the community hall in the morning before the ceremony with my husband and all of our family members, spreading shells from the beach around all the tables, we all worked together and it was a lot of fun making the hall look beautiful.

  • Amanda Noel

    oh yeah! and I think you are missing that another big statement of current values in all these weddings isn’t do it yourself at all, but instead a mentality of “do it together” or returning to community- relying on friends to provide essential services and whatnot because we want our community highlighted, not just ourselves. :)

  • stessa

    All the effort required to create these “DIY” weddings makes me wonder: Do women still buy into the “wedding dream”? After spending a lot of time planning a more traditional wedding 16 years ago, 11 years married and now happily divorced, I think the trap in both wedding and marriage is believing the equation that great styling = happiness. It is only a day or event.

  • Amiee

    Ahh this is nice to read – a little reality check! My partner and I are planning our wedding at the moment. We’re trying to combine some DYI, though certainly don’t have the budget or time for something as intense as described above. We have about half the guests coming from abroad so there was no way I could try and get them to a barn in the middle of a field somewhere – so we booked a small hotel, they will cater and do the tables etc. I am putting my energy into making our own invites and designing my dress and I am trying not to get swept up in the blogs, which make every detail seem so important – realistically I couldn’t pull off a wedding to that scale, and I need to just figure out a balance that works for us!

  • Bethany

    I have this wonderfully simple idea of spending less than $1,000 on my wedding by going to the courthouse with the man I love in a short dress I ordered from modcloth and one of his nice polos and jeans. As a bridesmaid in two “traditional” weddings in one year, I was pretty sick of the whole bridezilla thing. And this was in the day of bridezillas, not the rustic wedding. Afterward, in my mind, will be like a giant Thanksgiving dinner in June when the family would hold a potluck dinner at my Grandmother’s (her pecan pies are to die for), and the attention will be decentralized and I can actually breathe. This concept is impossibly twee. But, knowing my family, they would want a giant wedding in a cathedral and I will be left fighting the mushroom cloud after the atomic bomb. My only solution: elope.

  • [...] I’ve written before, my husband and I had a low-key, rustic, handmade, DIY wedding on a local goat farm, which ended up costing far more money and energy than if we’d simply rented out the local [...]